I had to hike Humphrey’s alone on Labor Day because my roommate Paul didn’t think he was up to a nine mile hike. I decided to go anyway and try to take it easy. I told me that if I was by myself I might not push it as hard and might even be able to turn back if I was feeling bad from altitude. I ate two bowls of Reese’s Puffs for breakfast, grabbed one of Paul’s bananas, and went out the door. The weather in Flagstaff was partly cloudy and about 70 degrees. I felt a little sheepish walking out into the bright morning with a backpack stuffed full of winter clothes. I drove up Snowbowl Road to the Humphrey’s Peak trailhead. My destination was somewhere hidden in the huge cloud over the mountain.
I parked at 9,100 feet elevation. There was a spectacular view over the valley right from the parking lot. I followed the trail into the woods. The lower forest was very lush, almost like PA except all pines and silver birch (aspen?) instead of hardwoods. I saw lots of birds and squirrels beside the trail. It was hot and humid in the woods; the trees were dripping water and the trail was kind of slippery. And it was rough. There were boulders to scramble over and lots of rolly lava rock to walk through –very hard on shoes and ankles. I entered the clouds at about 10,800 feet. The wind picked up and wisps of clouds were whipping past within touching distance. The underbrush stopped and the trees got fewer and stubbier, until there was no vegetation at all-except for the minuscule moss-like tundra flora, at the 12,000 feet point. The wind above 12,000 feet was constant, and probably about 30 miles an hour with stronger gusts. A few times I had to use my hands to catch my balance. Grit was blowing around and I was eating sand and picking it out of my eyes. The clouds got really thick and sometimes visibility was less than 100 feet. It was kind of eerie. And it kept getting colder. By the time I got to the peak I was wearing a shirt and a sweater and my big hooded winter parka and a stocking cap. My hands were numb and I was wishing for my ski pants.
Someone had built some stone walls on the summit as windbreaks, and I stretched out behind one and tried to take a nap. The sky was awesome; the clouds were cruising all over the place, and every once in a while a small clearing would blow through and I could look down and around. Then a few seconds later it would be all white again. I can’t imagine being up there in the winter. I will have to try it to find out. The peak is 12,633 feet high, and it’s the highest point in Arizona. Ben and Paul want to go up this fall yet, so I’m hoping to get up there sometime when the sky is clear. Surprisingly, the altitude didn’t really affect me. A few times I was a little light-headed, but I would just slow down and the feeling would leave right away. I didn’t run or do anything stupid –just a slow three hour plod until I was at the top. It took a little over two hours to hike down. I sort of had a cramp in one leg, but it’s gone now so I guess it wasn’t too serious. All in all, it’s a pretty awesome trail to hike, from the silver birch and rainforest bottom to the twisted juniper and lava-rock desert finish. I hope I can do it again soon.